Honours student's sea turtle research

Published 13 August 2002

Southern Cross University Honours candidate, Marissa Speirs, is asking for help from local scuba divers to assist with her research on sea turtle populations off the NSW north coast.

Marissa completed her Bachelor of Applied Science, majoring in Coastal Management, at the University last year, and is hoping her Honours study will provoke ongoing research on NSW sea turtle populations.

"There are virtually no studies of sea turtles in NSW waters, and most people are not aware that four species of endangered turtles occur in Northern NSW, and that makes it virtually impossible to argue the case for turtle protection," she said.

With the assistance of vessels from NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service, Byron Bay Dive Centre, Southern Cross University, and the Australian Seabird Rescue group from Ballina, Marissa is using a tagging program to record turtle populations in the area of Julian Rocks off Byron Bay, but she's almost entirely reliant on diver observations for the Solitary Islands area, off Coffs Harbour.

"The dive boat operators in both locations have been reallysupportive and they have my survey forms on hand for divers to record
>their observations of the turtles," she said.

"I need to know where and when divers saw the turtle, any distinguishing features such as tags, any damage to the carapace or flippers, whether they were feeding when they were seen, at what depth they were seen, and any other useful information on turtle behaviour and habitat use.

"I'm also looking for evidence of Fibropapilloma which affects the turtles - it's not been recorded here prior to my study but it's a disease related to the Herpes virus and can cause a severe, warty growth over their shoulders and even into the eyes of some turtles that have been observed recently at Julian Rocks".

Marissa's study is being supervised by the University's Director of Marine Studies, Associate Professor Peter Harrison and a leading authority on sea turtles, Dr Col Limpus of the Queensland Department of Parks and Wildlife.

Further information on Southern Cross University's School of Environmental Science and Management is available on the University website.